Indoor activities, irritated eyes, asthma inhalers as smoke lingers in Bay Area

Indoor activities,irritated eyes, asthma inhalers as smoke lingers in Bay Area

29 June 2008

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USA — Tennis courts and ball fields sat empty Saturday,but over at the South Valley Family YMCA, they were handing out more guestpasses than usual for the indoor gym, and over at Westfield Oakridge mall, the”Wall-E” matinee was drawing quite a crowd.

Though breezes began thinning the smoky haze from numerous distant wildfiresthat has hung like a pall over Silicon Valley for the past week and triggeredair-quality health advisories, many sought refuge indoors.

“You just don’t want to be outside,” said Kara Westbrook, who tookher 14-year-old son and a friend to see Disney’s “Wall-E” at Oakridgein South San Jose. “It’s yucky. I’ve had a sore throat and we’re all reallyfatigued.”

Though the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has no plans yet to liftits health advisory, weather forecasters are predicting ocean breezes will startclearing out the haze Monday. Children, the elderly and people with heart andlung diseases are advised to limit outdoor activities.

The district issues alerts when airborne particulate levels are expected toexceed federal standards, an average of 35 parts per million over eight hours.Friday’s preliminary average in San Jose was 42 ppm, with levels peaking at 65ppm, said air district spokesman Jim Smith. Saturday saw considerableimprovement, with a preliminary average of 24 ppm, he said. Still, that’s nearlyfive times the reading a year ago of 5 ppm.

Coastal pollution
Air advisories also remained in effect along the coast, where theMonterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District was reporting highparticulate levels from massive wildfires raging near Big Sur and through theVentana Wilderness.

In fact, air-quality districts from Bakersfield to Redding issued healthadvisories through the weekend, with pollution readings in Northern Californiaanywhere from two to 10 times the federal standard.

The lightning-sparked Basin Complex fire burning for the past week in the LosPadres National Forest near Big Sur had torched nearly 27,000 acres by Saturdayand was just 3 percent contained. It has destroyed 16 homes and is threatening575 others. The Indians fire farther south, sparked June 8 by a campfire thatwent out of control, was 80 percent contained. It has burned nearly 60,000 acresand was threatening 422 homes.

Even in healthy people, the kind of smoke generated by wildfires can irritatethe eyes and sinuses, cause coughing and a scratchy throat.

Robert and Cecilia Cavazos, who live on a quiet cul-de-sac off Santa TeresaBoulevard, thought they were catching a cold Tuesday but soon realized they weresuffering smoke irritation.

“We didn’t feel sick, but for some reason we kept coughing a lot,”Robert Cavazos said.

The Cavazoses stopped jogging. “If we work out now, it’s at the gym,”he said.

And they limited their 5-year-old granddaughter, Isabella, to just an hour ofplay outside – which she seemed to find grating. And because of the air, thechild’s mother stopped letting her swim in the outdoor pool.

“It’s hard,” quipped Cavazos. “When you have a Barbie jeeplike that, you want to ride it.”

The Cavazos set up a lemonade stand with Isabella to lure buyers to theirgarage sale, but noted the streets and nearby parks were oddly deserted.

Another South San Jose resident, Phil Coop, said the bad air forced him tostop riding his bike to work last week.

“We’re just kind of staying in the air conditioning,” Coop said,”and that’s about it.”

Westbrook said the smoke was so bad in her neighborhood that she closed offher fireplace flue in a not-too-successful effort to keep it out of her home. Itgot so bad, she said, that her husband asked for a blast off their sons’ asthmamedicine inhaler.

“This is just so persistent,” Westbrook said. “You just can’tkeep it out of the house.”

Change of plans
The Westbrooks rerouted a planned amusement park outing this week from GilroyGardens to Great America, hoping to get a little farther from the smoke. She hasnot been letting her kids play outside, and is grateful that the sport they play- hockey – is indoors. They even stopped walking their dog, Griffin.

“I send him out to do his business,” she said, “and then tellhim to come back in. Poor Griffin.”

Of course, not everyone was letting a little haze cloud their fun in the sun.At Cupertino’s Memorial Park, Asim and Arfeen Alam were playing catch and throwwith a football at a family graduation party. Asim, 21, just graduated from theUniversity of California-San Diego, and said the grayness hanging over the BayArea was nothing compared with the smoke from San Diego’s wildfires last year.

“You couldn’t even sit outside – it was like being in a room full of 100smokers,” Asim said. “Here, it’s still pretty bright out.”

“Plus,” added his 26-year-old brother with a smile, “it keepsit a bit cooler. I’m looking on the bright side.”

Nearby, Jimmy Mirasol decided to take advantage of the open tennis courts.

“I’m not really feeling any effects from it,” Mirasol said.

But others surely were, even without breaking a sweat.

As he packed up the family’s lemonade stand, Cavazos couldn’t help feeling alittle cheated out of a summer weekend.

“I hope this turns around,” he said. “California is known forthings outdoors, and now, you’re limited, just when summer is kicking off.”

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